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In what is an otherwise laudable if not particularly special appeal to stop the conflation of old age with death, writer Amy Gutman in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, summed up this way:
”We baby boomers (soon to be joined by our GenX peers) have few guideposts to follow in designing fulfilling and productive lives for 30 more years.
“This makes it all the more important that we both recognize the issue at hand and talk to and learn from one another. For now, our proper focus is not 'aging and death.' It’s 'aging and life.'”
Hey, Amy. I'm older than baby boomers but I'm a long way from dead yet.
In two short sentences, Ms. Gutman has consigned me along with everyone else currently over the age of 68 to irrelevance.
It feels a lot like the years during which the women's movement ignored our sisters who chose full time motherhood. It took decades to repair that lamentable and unnecessary rift.
This time it is the baby boomer generation, replicating the role of careerist feminists, rejecting generations older than themselves (instead of mothers).
Move along now. Nothing to see here, nothing to learn. Only we baby boomers and a few gen-xers need apply.
This is not new from boomers. Hardly a day and certainly not a week passes when I don't find boomer-written references about ageing that specifically exclude anyone older.
(I don't mean to pick on Ms. Gutman but she is emblematic of an ongoing, widespread attitude. She's getting called out only because she is the most recent to raise my hackles and happened to do it on a day I decided to finally speak up.)
Deliberately omitting more than 31 million people (the population age 69 and older) from the conversation about growing old is another of the many forms of ageism.
Although Ms. Gutman and some of her generation appear lately to accept their own aging and want to find ways to change negative attitudes that remove old people from the mainstream of life, she immediately dismisses the one group who actually knows something about “designing a fulfilling and productive” old age.
I suspect the reason is what it has always been – denial:
Oh, I'm not like those old people over there. Don't confuse me with the ones on the bench in the park or the bridge bunch at the senior center. I'm getting old differently from them.
It's not enough to say, as old people too often do, oh, well – their turn will come. If old people are going to ever be accorded the respect and dignity all people deserve, it has to start now. The older generations cannot, should not pit themselves one against the others.
Amy Gutman is right, we need a public conversation about growing old (god knows I've been trying here for 10 years). But it is doomed from the start when any part of the group is excluded.
If Ms. Gutman doesn't think we of the generations older than she have anything worthwhile to say about fulfilling and productive lives in old age, she could start educating herself by reading just one post (among many) at this blog.
There is much that is rich, thoughtful and even wise in last Friday's conversation, filled with a variety of ideas about how to live and contribute during the last third of our lives.